Jul 27, 2020
In recent weeks, South Africans have seen growing evidence of the devastating impact of the protracted lockdown on our economy. There is now a body of evidence suggesting that the contraction in Gross Domestic Product could be as severe as 10%, and the country looks set to experience the worst recession in living memory. If productive capacity is not preserved, South Africa could experience an L-shaped recession, whereby it takes a decade for the economy to return to its 2019 size.
The financial response needs to be significant and involve all pools of capital, given that the anticipated needs equate to 15%-20% of GDP. The SA Government has limited capacity to provide fiscal stimulus – in addition, the bulk of recent packages tabled involves the redirection of expenditure and provision of guarantees as opposed to an outright injection of new capital. Concerningly, the equity and debt issuances locally are running well behind other markets last year.
There are good companies across all sectors of South Africa’s economy that will be facing funding needs that cannot be provided by the banks or the state. For some, the economic contraction will limit their access to capital to grow and expand existing capacity; for others, it will challenge their solvency as well as their resolve to remain operational.
We believe the SA long-term savings pool has a key role to play in addressing this funding gap. It compelled us to respond with the launch of the Ninety One SA Recovery Fund, an impact investment initiative. With this fund, which we have launched in association with Ethos Private Equity, we hope to support South Africa’s productive capacity and economic recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, while seeking an attractive return for our investors.
The current environment has prompted a different level of conversation with our clients, without whom this initiative has no chance of success. With this fund, we are encouraging large institutional allocators to consider an allocation to unlisted investments in a locked-up structure – a clear departure from their standard asset allocation decisions. We are hopeful that these are just the first steps for the savings industry in considering other asset classes that can have a more direct and positive impact on the future of South Africa.
Given the urgency of the economic situation, we are targeting a first close this month and are encouraged by the strong support we have thus far received from our South African institutional client base. We are targeting a fund size of R10 billion over time, with funding raised via two closes.
As Hendrik du Toit, our CEO and founder, has said, “The lockdown, while necessary to protect the nation’s health, has been akin to putting the economy into an induced coma. South Africa faces a once-in-a-generation economic challenge. With this fund, we would like to support quality businesses and protect the nation’s productive capacity, which will in turn preserve thousands of jobs and support the South African tax base.”
The priorities for the Ninety One SA Recovery Fund are to protect SA’s productive capacity during the next 24 months, which is key to the long-term economic recovery, preserve jobs and protect permanent loss of equity value. At the same time, it is imperative that we achieve an appropriate return for our investors.
Importantly, as this is an impact initiative, we will seek to measure the social return, with metrics such as employment retention, measures in place to reduce retrenchment and conversion of temporary employees to permanent staff.
The fund will consist of a concentrated portfolio with an appropriate mix of senior and subordinated debt, preferred equity, listed equity and private equity with a deployment time horizon of 18 to 36 months. It will combine the credit and publicly-listed equity skills within Ninety One with Ethos’ private equity expertise.
While we will initially seek support from our institutional investors, we are hopeful that retail investors – subject to the necessary regulatory enablement – will be able to access the Ninety One SA Recovery Fund. In other parts of the world, during the past five years, closed-end mutual funds have been created to facilitate retail investment into long-term assets.
We are committed to building a better tomorrow for our clients and communities, so in addition to launching the SA Recovery Fund, Ninety One has also made a R50 million donation to the South African Solidarity Fund and its counterparts in Botswana and Namibia. We also recognise that our staff members are most aware of where the need is in their communities and are matching their charitable efforts. To date Ninety One, along with our people, have jointly contributed almost R10 million to charities chosen by staff members.